‘Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications’, Aakrosh, Vol. 20, No. 77, October 2017, pp. 60-76.
In mid-June 2017, India and China began a long standoff in the Doklam area of Bhutan that came to an end only in late August. The crisis originated when a Chinese road-building party moved into an area that was part of a dispute with Bhutan, an activity that the Indian side deemed was an attempt to change the status quo in an area uncomfortably close to the sensitive ‘Chicken’s neck’ corridor connecting mainland India with Northeast India. As long as the area – part of the trilateral meeting point of the borders between Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan – only saw grazers or the occasional patrol party from China and Bhutan visiting, there really was no major cause for concern. But the Indians refused to countenance permanent Chinese construction in the area and on apparent request from their Bhutanese counterparts moved to physcially block the Chinese from continuing with their activity. The Chinese were clearly surprised, not expecting the Indians to intervene so decisively on the side of the Bhutanese in territory that after all did not belong to India and was the subject of another bilateral dispute altogether. The Chinese reactions in turn were a cause of much surprise for the Indians – the Chinese Foreign Ministry and state-run media began a campaign of vociferous protests and open threats quite unlike usual Chinese practice of either ignoring Indian reports of Chinese transgressions or of giving pro forma responses. In the Doklam case however, there were repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary. The Chinese kept stressing for a long time that this was ‘the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’. Chinese rhetoric constantly suggested that India not doubt China’s demand for Indian troop withdrawal or that it would do what it took to have India out of ‘Chinese territory’, even suggesting ‘a military response may become inevitable’. The Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was, for instance, targeted by name in several Global Times editorials or op-eds. In the end, the Indians stood their ground and the Chinese had to climb down but there are important considerations for India from the entire episode and the way the vehement Chinese criticism of India through the incident and after.
The standoff between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan has been resolved with each government putting out differing versions of the exact terms of the settlement. But it is certain that status quo before 16 June this year has been restored. The Chinese have stopped their road construction in the area, which had led to the Indian action in the first place and Indian troops have pulled back to their positions.
The Chinese government has sought to sell the deal as a case of the Indians having blinked, of having bowed to Chinese threats and coercion. It is doubtful that the line has much purchase even within China where the netizen community might have constraints on their conversations but are not stupid and not entirely without access to information from the outside world.
What then explains China’s high-decibel campaign of vilification against India in the wake of the standoff and which shows no sign of letting up even now? Read more
The ongoing standoff between India and China in the Doklam area in Bhutan is the result of a disagreement over the terms of the 1890 Convention Relating to Sikkim and Tibet signed by the colonial British government in India and the Qing empire in China. Contrary to the Chinese stress today on ‘Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier’ as the beginning of the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim, the Indian side has pointed out that the specific trijunction point should actually be the result of an adherence to the watershed as indicated in the same Article I of the Convention. And as has been underscored by the 2005 Agreement between India and China, ‘the delineation of the boundary will be carried out utilising means such as modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys’ (Article VIII) and that ‘[p] ending an ultimate settlement … the two sides should … work together to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas’ (Article IX).
Several points then are clear from this. Read more
The Dalai Lama is slated to visit Tawang in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh from 5-7 April. The visit follows a public meeting with the President of India in December last year – the first of its kind in some 60 years – and an address at a major Buddhist conference in the Indian state of Bihar in mid-March where he shared the stage with the minister for culture in the Indian central government.
Beijing has expectedly protested loudly and vigorously, presaging a fresh round of tensions in the India-China relationship.
The Chinese have been trying to portray Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh itself, as the central issue in the India-China boundary dispute. In the process, they are trying to repudiate a significant clause of a landmark 2005 bilateral treaty, which stated clearly that ‘settled populations’ would not be disturbed in the process of resolution. Tawang, with the largest Buddhist monastery in India and a population of some 11,000 at last count, is as settled as they come. This Chinese volte face – no doubt related to continued challenges to their legitimacy in Tibet – might be said to have been at least partially responsible for why the boundary negotiations have not moved forward for a while. Read more
China is deepening its ties with Central Asia through the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative. Cooperation with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) that was already quite intense in the field of trade, especially in the energy sector, is broadening into infrastructure development with an eye on strengthening the region’s role as a transit hub for Chinese products moving to the more prosperous and bigger markets of Europe.
The primary objective for China is, of course, the maintenance of stability in Xinjiang, which is a key Chinese province and actor in the SREB. Despite all the troubles in Xinjiang, however, the province is today considerably better off economically than most of its eight neighbouring countries. Beginning in the 1990s China-CAR trade through Xinjiang has expanded and today, several companies from the province have a strong presence in Central Asia. For example, the Xinjiang-headquartered Chinese enterprise TBEA that has promoted connectivity in Central Asia by building power transmission lines in Kyrgyhzstan and Tajikistan. It is also noteworthy that there is a flight from Urumqi to every CAR capital and to many other cities besides. Indeed, many of these countries are connected to each other by air not directly but via the Xinjiang capital. Read more
Originally published as ‘Pothole potential on China’s silk roads’, Asia Times Online, 13 March 2015.
Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Silk Road Economic Belt (sichouzhilu jingjidai, 丝绸之路经济带) in a speech on 7 September 2013 at the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan and the Maritime Silk Road (haishang sichouzhilu, 海上丝绸之路) during his visit to Indonesia, the following month. The two initiatives – collectively termed the ‘one belt, one road’ (yidai yilu, 一带一路) initiative – taken together with his declaration of a new neighbourhood policy in October 2013 at the first work forum (zuotan, 座谈) on diplomacy towards China’s periphery(zhoubian, 周边), constitute a major Chinese foreign policy initiative. It is designed not just to increase China’s influence but also to put forward a new way of doing business, different from the Western/American approaches and tries also to assuage fears of an impending Chinese regional and global hegemony.
At the 17th China-ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Naypyitaw, Myanmar in November 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for the formulation of a Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2016-2020) to ensure good neighbourly relations. A Global Times commentary has pointed out that while the Chairman’s Statement of the 24th ASEAN Summit on the South China Sea disputes ‘expressed serious concerns over the ongoing developments in the South China Sea’, the statement at the 25th Summit that concluded in Naypyitaw on 13 November, only mentioned that it was ‘concerned over the situation in the South China Sea’. Clearly, the Chinese are working on the ASEAN members to moderate their views on the seriousness of the impact of the South China Sea disputes, and by extension, China’s actions, on regional stability. Read more
Originally published: Jabin T. Jacob, “A tale of two coalitions,” DNA (Mumbai), 8 December 2011.
The Special Representatives talks on the Sino-Indian boundary dispute slated for the end of November were called off after the Chinese objected to a Buddhist gathering in India that would have hosted the Dalai Lama. The incident has been viewed in different lights among New Delhi’s strategic community – as a diplomatic gaffe signifying lack of coordination within the government, as standing up to China by refusing to pressure the organizers of the Buddhist gathering, and as having meekly surrendered to China by cancelling plans to allow the Indian President and Prime Minister to address the gathering. Read more